Category Archives: New York

Reflecting on 2018, Lessons Learned and Looking Forward to 2019

by Paul Thompson

Reflecting on 2018

The year just ended proved a mixed one for running, one in which I achieved some but not all of my 2018 goals. I plumbed the highs and lows, from a world medal at the through to tripping and breaking my right shoulder and, consequently, failing to run 6 NYRR races necessary to get nominated for the 2018 NYRR Age Group Awards.

Rather than run a marathon, I decided to focus on winning a medal at the World Masters Athletics (WMA) Championships in Malaga, Spain in September and logging some fast times, hopefully sufficient to top  the UK and USA M50 rankings for 10K, 10 miles and half marathon. For the most part I succeeded despite lots of work travel to, from and within Europe.

Things started well enough. I ran 33:10 in the UAE Healthy Kidney 10K in April. That would be good enough for topping the 2018 UK M50 10K rankings. But then in May at the Popular Brooklyn Half Marathon I passed 10 miles in around 55 minutes flat and 200 meters later pulled up nursing a hamstring tear. In the early summer plenty of TLC enabled me to mend and prepare for the WMA.

At the WMA I ran a poor tactical race in the 10K road race and finished a disappointing 4th with a mild hamstring strain to  boot. I bounced back to snatch a silver medal in the half marathon a week later. And then soon after returning to the US rocked the New Balance Bronx 10 Mile logging 54:29, enough to top the UK and USA M50 rankings.

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Receiving the silver medal in the WMA in Malaga, Spain.

In the final quarter of the year things went awry. I tripped and fell while running the Lake Garda bike path in fading light. I was left with a badly bruised right arm and thigh. Barely 9 days later I ran for England in the British and Irish Masters Cross Country International and was a sluggish 6th and last scorer. On arrival back in the US an X ray revealed I had a fractured right shoulder, a non-displaced humerus. Since then I’ve been seeing physical therapist Miranda Lyon at the New York-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital and doing lots of home exercises.

Learning in December that I’d failed to win nomination for the 2019 NYRR Age Group Awards was disappointing. Since turning 40 I have won every year bar one when an accident got in the way of my running the required 6 races. In 2018, I ran 6 races but 2 of these was guiding visually impaired runners – Paraolympian medalist Jason Dunkerley in the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon and Jared Broughton in the Achilles Hope & Possibility 4M. In the half I had no race tag, just a guide bib, so was excluded from the results. That left me a race short. But I’d not have it any other way. Guiding Jason was awesome, on par with my best races of 2018.

Credit-JohnLeTran

Guiding Jason Dunkeley in the New York City half-marathon.

Lessons Learned

I learned a lot in 2018. I think. First, recovering from serious injury, such as my hamstring tear in May or fractured shoulder in November, demands patience and plenty of TLC. Second, staying fit and fast in your fifties demands a range of ingredients.  Training is important but then so is mindset, diet and strength exercise. So one year on I’m a year older and, maybe, a few days wiser.

Looking Forward to 2019

As for New Year’s  resolutions it’s more of the same. My main aims are to run a spring (London) and autumn (Berlin or Montreal) marathons, top the Abbot World Marathon Majors for M50 and qualify for the World Masters Marathon Championships in London in April 2020. Running two marathons in one calendar year will be a first. The risk of injury or illness looms large. In my wife and coach Lee Troop I have the best early warning stystems. The work starts here. And this week I’m on track to run 70 miles.

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Fighting Fit and Fast in Fifties: The Ingredients

By Paul Thompson

This article is a personal view, informed by what I’ve read, heard and learned by doing, on how to stay competitive at distance running as age tries to catch up with us. It’s written against the back drop of mankind’s obsession with avoiding the effects of old age. But before we find a way of arresting the onset of old age what can masters runners do to stay fighting fit? This article, more anecdotal self-reflection than scientific analysis, explains how I have navigated the physical and psychological to keep the effects of creeping age at bay. We will slow as we age, but as this New York Times article explains we may not need to slow too much. Although declines in our running are unavoidable, they may be less steep than many of us fear. The article looks at the key ingredients, and their relative importance, to mastering masters athletics from training, recovery and mindset and motivation through to time management and planning, diet and support network.

The Author

Let’s start with a few words about me. That way you can judge whether or it’s worth reading what I have to say. I’m 52. I’ve run consistently, and competitively, since I was in my early teens. I ran for school, town, county and region but was never good enough to cut it a national level in the open age category. Until, that is, I turned 40. Since then I’ve been one of the top masters’ runners on both sides of the Pond – in the UK, where I was born, and in the US where I have lived since joining the masters’ ranks. It seems that as I’ve aged I’ve slowed down slower than most. Today I am proud to be a world class masters runner and able to compete and win medals at world masters athletics championships. My full running resume is here.

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Silver medel in the half marathon at  the World Masters Athletics championships, Malaga, Spain, September 2018

Review of the Literature

Before I tell my own story a few observations on what the literature is telling us about how to stay fit in our fifties. Arguably the most significant writer on the subject is Joe Friel. His book Fast After 50 was written primarily with endurance cyclists in mind but much of it is just as relevant to endurance running. Friel starts out by looking at the what is holding us back as we age — our specific weaknesses, or “limiters.” He notes that while many areas of our life can nurture limiters, such as time available to train, diet, amount of sleep, and speed of recovery, and much more, the “big three” aging limiters are as follows:

  • Decreasing aerobic capacity – we lose the ability to deliver oxygen to our working muscles.
  • Increasing body fat – we can expect more fat and less muscle, a transition that accelerates in our 60s.
  • Shrinking muscles – starting around age 40, a progressive decrease of muscle begins.

Friel encourages us not to be defeatist. While these limiters can’t be dodged there’s much we can do to slow the pace of change. The book describes in considerable detail several key training, recovery and nutrition strategies that can limit age-related losses to performance. Below I’ll try to fuse my own ideas with those of Friel and others.

Training

The single most important ingredient to our athletic success irrespective of age. My running log looks much like it did when I was younger. I run around 70 miles per week. This includes a 2 hour plus long run, longer than when I was younger, a mid-week medium long run, and two work-outs. Friel’s foremost recommendation is to maintain aerobic capacity through continued high-intensity training. I agree. As we age the natural tendency is for us to concede defeat and quit high intensity training on the basis that we should take it easy and push back. This is in keeping with the prevailing general view that as we age we should retire, take up golf and all that. So many of us revert to just steady running. Unfortunately, this just speeds up our rate of decline. Accepted it’s hard to wrap your head around the idea of running repeats slower and slower. But to stop high intensity training altogether will make us even slower, sooner.

Before I describe a few workouts I do on a regular basis, and how they differ from what I used to do, let me say a few words about how I approach them. First, get my mind and motivation right – see the section below. Second, while I may record the workout on my Garmin I tend to only glance at it during the workout to get a rough idea as to the time and pace. I try to avoid being a slave to the device or schedule. Organic is preferred. Third, I typically do a warm-up run of at least 25 minutes. Fourth, like all my runs I tend to start easier and slowly step up the intensity. In this way all my runs have a progressive dimension. For example, like this workout  or this steady run. And finally, I do workouts mainly alone, partly to avoid the stress of chasing others and being reminded that I’m getting slower. When I’m rocking them I’m happy to have company.

Mona Fartlek

One of my staple speed endurance sessions. The 20-minute version consists of 2 x 90sec, 4 x 60sec, 4 x 30sec, 4 x 15sec with a slower tempo recovery of the same time between each repetition. I approach the session as though a steady run with timed efforts. To be able to run the recoveries at a reasonable pace, ‘float’ recoveries, the efforts need to be fast but not all out. I aim to cover around 3.5 miles as I did on this one. This workout is great for shorter races and offers a varied high intensity session.

Hill Repeats

My typical hill work-out is 10x60secs with jog down recovery. The hill I use is of varying gradient but none of it is steeper than 10%. Close to the top is levels off enabling me to close fast. Like all hill sessions this one works the glutes and hips, maintaining muscle strength and power. I concentrate on form rather than speed. I did this one recently.

Other

Like most runners I also do repeats on track or flat road. Typically these are longer efforts with short jog recoveries and ladders.

Recovery

As we age the rate at which we recover, especially from high intensity sessions, slows markedly. Hence, getting recovery right assumes heightened importance as we age. When my daily run is done it’s all hands-on deck to recover as soon as possible. Except when it’s very cold I apply ice to my legs with an ice cup – this not only speeds up muscle recovery but in hot weather offers relief by lowering my overall body temperature – roll my legs and back on a foam roller and do a few strength exercises. Given my slow recovery I avoid back to back hard sessions: typically, I do steady runs of no more than an hour the day before and day after high intensity work-outs and long runs.

Mindset and Motivation

The second most important ingredient after training. As older athletes we have accumulated experience and grit. I can, if necessary, grind out training sessions and races even when the chips are down. I can eke out that extra few percent of effort on race day. Going into every work-out or race I moderate my expectations. I avoid comparing with yesteryear. For workouts the goal is to more to complete rather than to excel. Easing into the session, holding back early on, helps ensure I get it done. I know that I’ll struggle to run them anything like as fast as I used to. I also need to make allowances for the fact that age slows down the ability to recover so I may struggle to replicate the times the last time I did that same work-out. Similarly, my race goals differ to when I was younger. I’m looking to top my age group and maximize my age grade percentage (often at or around 90%) rather than bag a PR.

If I fear anything it’s injury rather than pain. I often have a contingency plan, or secondary goals, to avoid being like a ship at sea without anchor, in case things don’t play out the way I’d planned. In a recent 10K race my ultimate aim was to run under 33:00 but my back-up plan was to revert to 5:20 minute per mile pace. At 5K I reverted to Plan B and ran 33:10. When injury strikes one needs to be especially careful to ensure full and timely recovery. In a recent race I pulled a hamstring. I had to quickly bail out to avoid making matters worse. I rested, maintained cardio vascular fitness by cycling, and got treatment. Patience is indeed a virtue.

Finally, I’ve gotten a fillip of extra motivation from guiding visually impaired runners including Paralympian medalist Jason Dunkerley in the New York City Half Marathon. It feels good to help others enjoy something that I enjoy so much. And Jason has taught me that age, like blindness, is not a disability but a challenge to be overcome.

Time Management and Planning

Time is perhaps our most precious resource. There’s never enough of it. My wife and I are lucky in that we don’t have kids or pets or high maintenance parents. However, I like many in their fifties are at or close to the peak of our careers. This means a demanding day job and work travel. I invest considerable time in planning my week ahead to ensure I get the training done no matter when and where. Sometimes this demands last minute adjustments like moving a work-out to a less time constrained day.

Diet

There’s nothing special about my diet. I eat most things in moderation. But what has changed in the past few years, thanks to my wife Sham, is increased consumption of protein, to aid recovery, and fruit, nuts and seeds, sometimes in smoothies.

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Eating and drinking with family and friends on eve of 2017 London Marathon

Support Network

My support network is bigger and more important than ever. It includes coach Lee Troop, Urban Athletics team mates, manager, counsellor and wife Shamala, and physical therapist / acupuncturist Russell Stram at Runner Clinic NYC.

PostRace

Urban Athletics team mates

Measuring Success

To see how you successfully you are holding back the years, slowing the rate of decline check out this calculator. I plugged in 2:29:56 for my marathon PR / PB at age 40 in London. It predicted I run 2:47:03 at age 51: in April 2017 at age 51, exactly 11 years after I ran my PR I ran 2:31:45 in London.

Concluding Remarks

The ingredients to being fighting fit and fast in your fifties described above are not mutually exclusive. They overlap and interrelate. Get them right and the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. And it’s important to work simultaneously on all ingredients, more so that ingredient in the shortest supply, our weakest link.

Race Report: New Balance Bronx 10 Mile, September 30, New York

by Paul Thompson (pictures Shamala Thompson and Nigel Francis)

It’s been barely two weeks since I ran in the World Masters Athletics Championships in Malaga, Spain. I was still enjoying the warm afterglow of having come back to the US with a silver medal in the half marathon for the M50 age group. But I was unsure how I’d fare 14 days later in what’s my favorite race of the NYRR calendar – the Bronx 10 Mile.

My uncertainty was made worse by the roller coaster training since getting home from Malaga. The half marathon, largely due to the oppressive hot and humid conditions, had been one of the hardest of races I’d endured. It left me reeling like a full marathon. And then I’d had the flight home via Madrid, some 16 hours door to door. And yet I seemed to  quickly get back into the swing of things sufficient to run for over two hours with team mates Flavio De Simone, whose race report is here, and Jordan Wolff over the hills of Rockefeller State Park on Saturday Setptember 22

The next day I was exhausted and 3 kilograms lighter than Malaga. A long run too far. All last week training had been mediocre, capped by my worst 20 minute Mona Fartlek measured in distance covered (3.2 miles versus the more usual 3.5 miles). I tapered after Wednesday and on race day morning felt sharp and rested. The previous day Sham and I went to a friends’ party at a building on Ocean Parkway (close to the 8 mile mark of the Brooklyn Half). I sampled the alcohol and picked away at the smorgasbord of food, much of it different to what I’d normally eat on the eve of a race, and then crashed at another friends place at Marcus Garvey Park (aka Mount Morris Park).

On race day morning waking up in Harlem meant an extra hour of sleep and a short 1.5 mile run to the start area over the Madison Avenue Bridge. I was at the race start around 7.15am. I’ve typically run well in this race. In 2015 I’d scorched to 53:36 at age 49. Last year I was slightly off the boil and ran 55:24 in warm weather. This year the weather was perfect – high 50s F, clear blue skies and gentle breeze from the north. The course is fast but not completely flat. My aim was to run 5:30 pace and hope to hold it for a sub-55 clocking. The object was to take a shot across the bows of my main M50 rivals in the US and UK.

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In first mile behind Beverly Ramos (#1)

After a delayed start we were away and I quickly settled into a pack running at 5:30 pace. The leading woman was in front for a short while: she went on the run 55:15, one of the fastest ever times by a woman in this race. My pack included three Dashing Whippets Running Team (DWRC), and regular competitors in my ballpark Bobby Asher of Van Cortlandt Track Club (VCTC) and Greg Cass of Central Park Track Club (CPTC). In the opening miles northbound on the Grand Concourse – one of the most spectacular boulevards for running, it being modelled on the Champs Elysees and punctuated with Art Deco splendor – I sat in the group as we reeled off 5:30 miles.

Approaching the turn onto the Mosholu Parkway just short of 4 miles I then started to do some of the heavy lifting. I was gaining in confidence, enough to dole out some pain. That exuberance was short lived. On the parkway a posse of CPTC runners and someone from Prospect Park Track Club (PPTC) breezed passed me. As we descended towards the New York Botanical Gardens they started to open up a gap. I passed mile 5 in 27:24, bang on schedule, ran the U turn wide and started to steadily climb the half mile back up the parkway to the Grand Concourse.

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I sensed I had a big group in tow. I led the charge up the Mosholu Parkway hoping to shake ’em off. I was firing on all cylinders as we got back on the Grand Concourse and passed mile 6. The beauty with a target of 5:30 MPM is that the math is simple. The clock at each mile simply needs to read :00 or :30 or thereabouts. As I tire I struggle with the math and to see my Garmin splits. If I could hold my pace from 6 through 8.5 miles then the downhill to the finish would see me comfortably under 55 minutes. I’d soon find out.

As I made the turn onto the Grand Concourse I heard “Go Paul” ring out loud and clear. You could measure it on the Richter Scale. Nicole Sin Quee has some big triathlete lungs! Heading south on the Grand Concourse one is met with a tide of humanity, the thousands of slower runners heading north on the other carriageway, many cheering us on.

I was now running for home, albeit with over 3 miles left to run. I felt strong and confident. I just needed to get to 8.5 miles and then the descent would carry me to the finish. Southbound the miles seemed much longer. The boulevard is immense, largely straight, almost like a runway. As I started to dig deep the roadway started to gently descend. As I started to inch up my pace a DWTC runner came past. And I sensed others were in the wings. So I kept putting the hammer down. With a quarter mile to go the course takes a sharp right and descends steeply to the finish just outside Yankee Stadium. I was being hunted down but got to the tape just ahead of two DWRC runners.

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Passing Mile 9 with game face on (picture credit: Nigel Francis)

I clocked 54:29, good for 23rd of 12,590 finishers. I was 1st M50 and 2nd masters after Guillermo Pineda Morales, over a minute in front in 53:28. At the sharp end Harbert Okuti of the Westchester Track Club was the top men’s finisher in 48:35, and New Balance athlete Beverly Ramos won the women’s race in 55:15. Read the NYRR race report here.

I was satisfied, almost very satisfied, with that. It was perhaps the best performance of 2018 so far, bagging me top age grade (AG) runner on the day with 91.97%. The Garmin data showed the even splits with slightly faster running down the Mosholu and in the final mile. My heart rate averaged 176 bpm and maxed out at 189 bpm. I clearly worked hard. The 7th mile, in 5:23, was decisive. At this stage one can easily lose focus. I didn’t. I was on a mission for home.

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Engraved bling

I hung out in the finishing area to see team mates and rivals, like my closest M50 challenger Brad Kelley of CPTC, cross the line. This is always the best part of the race where we get to talk and laugh rather than pant or gasp.

PostRace

Team catch-up – Ellen, Ada, Flavio, me and Saudy Tajeda

The Urban Athletics Team, though low in total number, did well:

  • Female Master 40+: 1st place (Cathrine Wolden, Ellen Basile and Jennifer Amato)
  • Male Master 40+: 2nd place (Paul Thompson, Flavio De Simone and Jordan Wolff)
  • Male Master 50+: 2nd place (Paul Thompson, Adam Kuklinski and Richard Temerian)
  • Open Male: 7th place (Paul Thompson, Flavio De Simone, Alex Lorton, Jordan Wolff and Adam Kuklinski)

UA’s masters women are hot favorites to win the NYRR 2018 masters 40+ team title but the men, in a distant 2nd place after West Side (WSX), have work to do. In the individual stakes, Urban Athletics got 4 podium finishes: Cathrine Wolden, 1st 45-49, in 1:04:57; Ellen Basile, 3rd 45-49, in 1:06:41; Kathleen Horton, 2nd 70+, in 1:36:20 and me. Flavio and Jordan got PRs of 57:25 and 59:21 respectively.

BronxUAResults

After the run I spent some time reflecting. I read this New York Times article again and was reminded how fortunate I am to have a relatively easy day job in terms of physical demands and hours. Occasionally I travel a lot for work but, as my mother use to say when i was a kid whining about not having something, “there’s always someone worse off than you”. It also reminds me what a great running community we have – globally, nationally, and locally here in New York City. It’s diverse, socially, ethnically, economically. And yet shares much in common – a love of running and fellow runners.

In the end it played out as best I could have ever hoped for. I had self doubts before the race. but these were quickly put to bed. And I came away top of the UK M50 rankings for 10 miles to go with my 10K top spot.

 

Race Report: Percy Sutton Harlem 5K, August 25, New York

by Paul Thompson

It’s been a while since I last raced. And hence a while since I’ve written a blog post. May in fact. I dropped out of the Brooklyn Half Marathon, having just passed 10 miles in 55 minutes and loose change, with a hamstring injury. Since then I’ve travelled extensively for work and pleasure – UK, Belgium, France, Italy, Montenegro, Romania, D.C. – but somehow got the running in except for some quality workouts and long runs. So here I was on the start line of the Percy Sutton Harlem 5K looking for signs that I was ready for the World Masters Athletics Championships (WMA)

I’ve raced Percy Sutton before, the last time in 2016 when I ran 16:31 as part of the build-up for the the last WMA (where I got gold in the half marathon for M50-54). It’s  one of my favorite races despite the course being quite tough and the weather typically too hot. A course change this year introduced a steep incline – 10% or more for 250 metres – just before half way making it tougher than ever for 2018. However, with cooler temperatures than late – low 70Fs – I was shooting for 16:15-20.

I settled into the corral several rows back but figured that would help me avoid an  exuberant start. I need time to fire up the engine. After a rendition of the national anthem by a saxophinist – he added his own twist at the close –  we were off and soon taking in a chicane of consecutive 90 degree left and right hand turns. At the first turn teammates Paul Sorace and Bob Smullen were on NYRR volunteer duty, as part of the 9+1 guaranteed entry to the New York City Marathon, and Paul snapped the picture below.

Percy Sutton 5K Start

Brad Kelley (CPTC), me, Javier (4th from right in red) and Flavio (3rd from left in pop socks) rounding first turn (picture credit: Paul Sorace)

And then we started the steady 2-3% grade kilometer climb of St. Nicholas Avenue. I struggled to get into a groove and promptly dropped off the back of a pack containing club mate Javier Rodriguez. I was laboring heavily when I made the U turn at one mile (passed in 5:25).

On the decsent back down St. Nicholas Avenue I chased the runners just ahead of me and caught Javier. We worked together, as we’ve done many times before with much success, and reeled in a few runners paying the price of a fast uphill opening mile. We were running 5:10 pace. But at the back of  my mind was the steep climb around half way.

And suddenly there it was. A sharp right hander and in the space of a few strides we went from descending a 2.5% grade to ascending a 250 metre perfectly straight and uniform 10% grade hill. I did what I do best. I edged in front of Javier so I could take the turn wide and then ground it out at around 5:45 pace. I was in the hurt locker.

Percy Sutton 5K Hill

Ryan, Javier and I grind out the hill at half way (picture credit: Sam LaFata)

The hill was over and done with in barely a minute but the damage was done. As we made the left hand turn towards City College, still with a few metres left to climb, Javier threw the hammer down and encouraged me to join him. It was an invitation too easy to decline (and too hard to accept). So I did (and I didn’t). We passed two miles in 10:45 (5:20 second mile). I spent the next 400 metres or so running along the ‘upper’ west side of St. Nicholas Park watching Javier edge away. I tried to get back into my rhythmn and, unlike the saxophonist, I did.

As we started to make the precipitous descent with half a mile to go I pulled alongside Javier and a runner wearing that familar Britsh club vest (of hoops or stripes). Post race I found this to be Ryan Prout of Brentwood, recently having made the Manhattan transfer. The three of us duked it out for the firstpart of the long, too long, straight to the finish. Ryan dropped off and then, sensing he had gas in the tank, I told Javier to stop waiting for me. He took my advice for once and kicked away crossing the line as first Urban Athletics (UA) runner in 16:31 to my 16:36 and Ryan’s 16:39. I  failed to see the three mile mark  – my faculties are usually shutting down at this stage of a race –  but my Garmin data suggested it was around 16:00 (third mile of circa 5:15). Flavio De Simone was third UA man in 16:56, first time ever under 17.

As usual I stood around in the finishing funnel for some time soaking up the atmosphere, chatting to team mates and rivals, eating NYRR’s free handouts of apple and bagel, and posing for pictures. Despite 35th overall, 1st M50, 3rd masters and top men’s age grade of 90.31%, I was a little disappointed: my season’s best is around 16:25 at half way in the UAE Healthy Kidney 10K. Nevertheless, it was great to be back racing with my UA team mates and sharing in individual and team accolades which, thanks to Flavio’s blog, were:

  • Master 40+ Female: 1st place by minutes (Fiona Bayly, Ellen Basile, Dominique Saint-Louis)
  • Master 40+ Male: 1st place by seconds (Javier Rodriguez, Paul Thompson, Flavio De Simone)
  • Master 50+ Female: 2nd place (Fiona Bayly, Dominique Saint-Louis, Jen Braunmiller)
  • Master 50+ Male: 3rd place (Paul Thompson, Richard Temerian, Michael Rustin)
  • Open Female: 5th place (Fiona Bayly, Saudy Tejada, Ellen Basile, Dominique Saint-Louis, Katharine De Simone)
  • Open Male: 7th place (Javier Rodriguez, Paul Thompson, Flavio De Simone, Stefano Piana-Agostinetti, Alex Lorton)
  • Javier Rodriguez: 1st 40-44, 16:31
  • Paul Thompson: 1st 50-54, 16:36 (also 1st age-graded)
  • Flavio De Simone: 2nd 45-49, 16:56 (PR)
  • Stefano Piana-Agostinetti: 3rd 45-49, 17:00
  • Fiona Bayly: 1st 50-54, 18:07 (also 1st age-graded on 92.23% and 5th woman overall)
  • Ellen Basile: 1st 45-49, 19:26
  • Richard Temerian: 3rd 60-64, 19:32
  • Dominique Saint-Louis: 2nd 50-54, 20:20
Percy Sutton 5K Team

UA team shot: Javier, me, Stefano, Flavio, Saudy, Mike Rustin, Peter Heimgartner, Ellen Basille, and Andres Pareja (picture credit: Kieran Sikso)

Here’s what the run, including warm-up, race, idling around and warm-down through Central Park, looks like on Relive.

In the overall reckoning the West Side Runners’ Tadesse Yae Dabi was the men’s individual winner, breaking the tape in 14:48, while the New York Athletic Club claimed the top spot in the team competition. In the women’s race, fellow West Side Runners member Emebet Etea Bedada took first individually in 17:29, with the Dashing Whippets Running Team earning first place in the team race. See here for the 2018 club standings.

The WMA kicks off in Malaga, Spain on September 5. Running for Team GB I’ve entered the 8K XC, 5000m track, 10K road and half marathon road. The XC is already scratched as we fly in the day of the race. I  may drop the 5000m as it’s wedged in between the other two races and it’s my weakest event (of the entrants listed, with their most recent best times, I rank 3rd for the 10K, 6th for the half and outside the top 10 for the 5000m).

Percy Sutton proved that I’m injury free but not firing on all cyclinders. So this morning I revisted the hurt locker for a few miles on my run in Rockefeller State Park. Incredibly, but inexplicably, I hit a higher average and maximum heart rate than yesterday.

Time to Reflect: First DNF Since Early 80s

by Paul Thompson (pictures by Shamala Kandiah Thompson)

Today I have the weary legs common for the day after a race. Only this time, for the first time since I stepped off a track in the early 80s during a 10,000m track race, I did not finish the race. The race being the Popular Brooklyn Half Marathon, one of NYRR’s premier race fixtures. And today not only did I have weary legs and the tail tangled between my legs, I also was physically unable to run so had some spare time to reflect as I walked on my own through Rockefeller State Park.

Going into the race I sensed I was ready for a fast one. The only question mark was to what extent the forecast persistent rain and unseasonably cold temperatures would weigh on my time. My target was to run sub 1:13, enough to lead the UK and USA M50 half marathon rankings. In 2017, I’d run the same race and clocked 1:12:01. Recent training had been going well and deep down I was very confident. So I figured I’d go out at 5:30 MPM pace and see if I could hold on.

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Throwback to 2017

The race largely went to plan. It had been raining all morning so most of us were wet even before the gun went off.  The beauty of running New York races is the sea of familiar faces. In the starting corral I knew pretty much everyone except for those coming from out of town. We were, all 26,000 if us, in this together. It was 7am, piss wet and cold. But we would  not want to be anywhere else even St George’s Chapel. This was our thing. And we were hoping  for the best for each other.

Looking for a group too work with in the opening mile

It seemed like it was Boston all over again. The roads were also pockmarked with puddles. Before long racing shoes and socks were soaking. I quickly settled into a group running at 5:30 pace including fellow Brit Ben Leese of North Brooklyn Runners. He like me, had opted to run the half instead of go to a royal wedding. Actually our invites had not arrived, lost in the post no doubt by either the Royal Mail or US Postal.

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About to enter Prospect Park around the 4 mile mark, with Brent Frissora (far left), Ben Leese (2nd from left), and Jeff Poindexter (far right)

I passed the first 5K in 16:58 and soon our group was joined by my team mate Askale (Asku) Meraichi. Asku was the 2017 NYRR Women Runner of the Year. It was nice to have a team mate to work with. And so we did until I dropped out! We passed 5 miles, the highest point of the race in Prospect Park, in 27:45. The pace had slowed a little due to the half mile climb to get to this point. From here it’s all down hill to the finish on Coney Island Boardwalk and that’s what makes the Brooklyn Half a pretty fast race. Faster still when it’s dry. The interactive map is here, the PDF with elevations here (see right hand panel).

Asku, the leading woman, and I were stride for stride for the next 5 miles. We passed 10K in 34:33 and descended the hill on the south west side of Prospect Park. It was here that I had an inkling of what was to come. I felt a slight twinge in my left hamstring, the same hamstring that had been strained after an indoor track meet followed by a long run the next day in the wet and cold. And I felt it again as we descended the ramp onto  Ocean Parkway.

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Stride for stride along Ocean Parkway with Asku Mariachi (picture credit: Kari-Ann Wanat)

One by one we overtook runners as we hurtled along the parkway. And then got overtaken by two, one  of them Philip Falk of CPTC., around mile 8. Running the parkway is like running on a treadmill. It’s straight as a dye, apart from one kink, for 5 miles. You have 3 lanes to work with. And much of the roadway  is like a bowling green, unlike a typical New York roadway.

We passed 20K in 51:34 and 10 miles in 55:05, and Ben Leese and Brent Frissora in the process. These times were good enough to lead the UK and USA M50 rankings and suggested a 1:12:30 finish was on the cards. Fearful I was holding her back I encouraged Asku to start chasing those in front. She started to edge away. Desperate to see her all the way to the finish, I accelerated slightly. And then the hamstring came back to haunt me.

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In the space of a few hundred meters a rapidly tightening hamstring reduced me to a heavily labored running style. And then I just stepped off the roadway, gripping the hamstring in a vice like hold to relieve the pain. I tried twice to reignite but quickly came to the conclusion that running to the finish would be painful. slow and carry the risk of lasting damage.

I started a slow, ungainly 3-mile walk to the finish. Team mate Javier Rodriguez jogged up with a quizzical expression. As we walked I tried to make some sense of it all. This was only my 4th ever DNF and the first one due to injury. Reagan and Thatcher were in power when I last failed to finish – a 10,000m track race.

While part of me was bitterly disappointed, especially given I was clearly in great shape. But part of me was content. Content in having played some small part in helping Asku have a good race (read the NYRR race report here). That contented part of me grew as I saw and got to learn later of team mates that had, in difficult conditions, great races, including Jordan Wolff (2nd M40-44 and masters PR of 1:14:40), Flavio De Simone (2nd M45-49 and all time PR of 1:14:53), Fiona Bayly (1st W50 and top women’s AG in 1:22:19), Ramin Tabib (all time PR of 1:27:37), Bob Smullen (2nd best ever of 1:36:08), Jennifer Harvey (3rd W50 in 1:31:24) and Kathleen Kilbride (2nd W60 in 1:45:15). And then to learn that the M40 team got 2nd (Jordan, Flavio and Sebastien Baret, who hobbled home injured), W40 4th (Fiona, Jennifer Amato (1:30:19) and Jennifer Harvey). and W50 2nd (Fiona, Jennifer Harvey and Kathleen).

Flavio De Simone at the finish line

 

Jordan Wolff at the finish line

So what of the self refection. Well first it’s the realization, or confirmation of what I’ve known for a while, that I am a runner. It’s what I am and what I do. Second, running comes with a big family of like minded people. I ran with 26,000 of them on Saturday. In foul weather at the crack of dawn. Third, while my DNF was a disappointment it came with a silver lining. That I’d played some small part in helping other runners. And recognition of that is as priceless as the crown jewels. A team mate paid me the ultimate tribute, thanking me for helping him dramatically improve. This will help me get back on the saddle and back to the top of the M50 rankings on both sides of the Pond.

Flatbush Avenue

Race Report: UAE Healthy Kidney 10K, New York, April 29

by Paul Thompson

After a month on the road – travelling for work in Europe – I stood on the start line with some trepidation. It was some 6 weeks since my last race, guiding Jason Dunkerley in the United Airlines New York City Half Marathon, and some 2 months since my season opener at the NYRR Washington Heights Salsa, Blues and Shamrocks 5K. I was in no man’s land with little idea what to expect. I need not have worried.

With Sham away in Bangladesh – she flew out of T4 JFK on Thursday, three hours after I cleared immigration at T8, and we had 15 minutes together curbside at T4 – my usual prerace routine was also out of the window. Instead of driving in, parking at Marcus Garvey Park and then running to the race start as a warm-up, this time I caught the train in, stepped off at Harlem 125th Street Metro North and then ran to the start. I was also missing a photographer and an editor for this blog (hence few pictures and many typos).

Warming up I felt like I was over jet lag. There was a spring in my step. I’d also lost a few lbs while away, like I had in the build-up to the 2017 London Marathon. I ran and walked almost 5 miles as a warm-up, the last few miles with team mate Falvio De Simone who had recovered well from Boston and was in saerch of a PR. Shortly before the start fellow team mate Jordan Wolff appeared: I had a UA singlet to lend him.

The starting corral was packed. The invited elite runners included Laura Thweatt who is also coached by Lee Troop and who headlined at the NYRR Run Talk on Friday evening taht I attended. The local field was loaded. NYAC were out in force. I lined up amidst their posse.

My race plan was simple. I was keen to get close to my 32:44 of 2017, arguably my best race of 2017.  I would shoot for even splits, making allowances for the hills in the 1st, 3rd and 4th miles, (Download Course Map (PDF)) with the goal of running just under 33:00. That would demand 5:15s in the early miles before settling into low 5:20s.

And the gun was off. Barely 400m into the race I noticed just up ahead a phalanx of elite women with Laura leading the way. I figured I’d try to keep them in my sights as long as possible and, hopefully, run with my new team mate Askale Merachi. I clipped through the first mile, taking in Cat Hill, in 5:17 and caught Askale around the two mile mark with the clock reading 10:30. I hoped Askale would come with me but she was slowing, perhaps saving herself for an upcoming marathon. I was following the playbook.

The third mile proved, as expected, to be the toughest as it takes in the Northern Hills. On a counter / anti clockwise loop like this that means a 400m descent past the Harlem Meer, a 600m climb up to near the summit of the Great Hill, Central Park’s highest point, and ending with a 400m descent. I passed three miles in 16:05 and half way in 16:32, 3 seconds faster than I ran the Washington Heights 5K. I was shadowing Brent Frissora, someone I’d often traded strides with. Aside from Brent I spent most of the race isolated.

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Mid race (Photo credit: Jay-r Mojica)

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Mid race (Photo credit: Nigel Francis)

The fourth mile was no easier. Heading south down the West Side Drive it rolls with more climbing than descending. I covered the 4th mile on 5:27, reaching the four mile mark in 21:20. The fifth mile is possibly the fastest of the course as it descends for around 800m to Strawberry Fields. I passed Brent and then passed the 8K mark in 26:32 and 5 miles in 26:50. In 2017 I rocked the final mile chasing Natosha Rodgers. This time I simply clung on. Brent overtook me. I climbed up the final 200m incline as though it were the north face of the Eiger.

I crossed the finish line in 33:10, 26 seconds shy of 2017. I was 40th, 1st M50+ and 2nd M40+. My time was worth an age grade of 92.15%, the 5th highest of the day. It also tops the UK and, I think, US M50+ rankings for road 10K (USATF Masters 10K Championships were held on the same day). For now. My Garmin data is here.

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UA boasted a number of individual top 3 age group placers: Jordan Wolff, 2nd M40 in 34:50, a PR; Flavio De Simone, 2nd M45 in 34:57, a PR by 1:02; Fiona Bayly, 1st F50-54 in 37:42; Jennifer Amato, 3rd F45-49 in 41:07; and Kathleen Kilbride, 1st F60-64 in 47:59). UA also excelled team wise with 1st W50 (Fiona Bayly, Kathleen Kilbride and Kathleen Horton), 2nd M40+ (Jordan Wolff, Flavio De Simone and I), 2nd M50+ (Richard Temerian, Bob Smullen and I) and 3rd F40+ (Fiona Bayly, Jennifer Amato and Kathleen Kilbride).

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With team mates post race – from left Stefano Pia Agostinetti, Flavio De Simone, me, Jordan Wolff and Richard Temerian.

Over 7,400 runners finished according to NYRR’s race report. Rhonex Kipruto lowered the event record by 27 seconds, crossing the finish line in 27:08. That time is also the fastest road 10K ever run in the United States. That would make it arguably the best 10K road performance of all time. By an 18 year old. The women’s race provided another exciting finish, as 2018 United Airlines NYC Half champion Buze Diriba of Ethiopia once again used her fast finishing kick to win, this time in 32:04, passing compatriot Aselefech Mergia in the final 200 meters. Laura Thweatt came 4th in 32:22, a 10K road PR. New UA team mate Askale came 6th in 33:59.

So all’s well that ends well. My month on the road ended well. My running routine had gone out of the window. I ran at different times, in different places, at different paces and mainly alone. But I had the constant support and guidance of Troopy.

I was not short of variety of weather and places to run. The weather ranged from wet and 40s F to sunny and high 70s F. I ran through villages near my home town with brother Stephen, in London’s Hyde and St James’s Park with friend Mo’ath Alkhawldeh (I watched him run the London Marathon a few days later), in the grounds of Schloß Schönbrunn in Vienna, in Richmond Park in London, and in the Bois de le Cambre, Parc de Bruxelles and the Sonian Forest in Brussels. Most of the time I felt like I was going through the motions. But during last Wednesday’s early morning 13 miler, where I got lost and scrambled to get back to the office in time for a meeting, I ran some 5 miles at close to 6:00 mpm pace. This was the acid test. I was ready to rock.

Race Report: 2018 NYRR Washington Heights Salsa, Blues and Shamrocks 5K, New York, March 4, 2018

by Paul Thompson (pictures by Shamala Kandiah Thompson)

The week leading into this race left me in a no man’s land of what to expect from this race, my traditional season opener. I’d run 16:35 in 2017 during my build-up for the London Marathon. What landed me in no man’s land was last weekend’s antics. It also  placed at risk my running with Jason Dunkerley at the upcoming New York City Half.

On Saturday evening I’d participated in my first indoor meet, at the Armory in the north west tip of Manhattan, in which I ran 5 x 200m as part of a 10 person 10K age-graded relay (I didn’t drop the baton as the results show). The following morning I ran 20 miles in the rain with team mate Flavio de Simone. Actually it was 19.83 thanks to Flavio working in metric and having us do 32K: I call this the “Italian Job”. On Monday, it left me with sore hamstrings that gradually recovered through the week. In most walks of life as we age we get wiser. This does not hold true with running.

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On the start line, after a 4 mile warm-up through Harlem from Marcus Garvey to the Armory, I was reasonably sure the hamstrings were set to race. Standing in the starting corral things took a turn for the worse. The elite runners bearing AA bib numbers were shepherded to the start line and told they would start ahead of the rest of us. The A runners , including my clubmates and I, started to roar in disapproval and a popular mass protest was on the cards. The AA runners took off and 40 or so seconds later, a random gap, we were off in hot pursuit.

The “AA” runners storming ahead: Brendan Martin leading

The opening half mile or so steadily climbs. I was fired up and was near the front of the pack. But as the crest of the first hill (see course map) approached I started to rapidly tire. To make matters worse the cold wind, not as bitter as in 2017 when wind chill was -15C but stronger and a headwind on the outward journey of this out and back course.

Over the next half mile or so, passing the mile mark at the summit of the course (in around 5:35 according to my Garmin: I ignored the clocks at the mile markers as they were only showing times for the AA runners) some 20 runners, including masters Guillermo Pineda Morales aka Memo (WSX), Peter Brady (CPTC), and team mates Javier Rodriguez and Matt Chaston, swept past. I was preparing mentally for one to forget.

Fortunately as we rounded the Cloisters, the half way point, I began to rally. We were now running with the elite women who’d also started 40 seconds or so ahead of us. I don’t mind confessing I enjoyed running with these top lassies. They rock. I rarely have the honor: in most races I’m a typically ahead of them from the gun.

The race takes a 400m loop around the Cloisters and then heads back up a 600m incline to the two mile point. This is arguably the toughest part of the course as it takes you back to the summit of the course. My Garmin showed I ran the second mile in 5:23. I edged past Peter as we entered the closing mile leaving me with just two masters runners, Mengistu Tabor Nebsi in 15:52 (WSX) and Memo in 16:15, ahead of me.

One might be orgiven for thinking that was plain sailing from here. The closing mile has one 200m incline but otherwise it descends the whole way. And we had a wind behind. But if you take your eye off the ball and the foot off the throttle droves of runners come past. So I stayed focused and kept charging. Just ass we crested the final hill and with 800m of steady descent left I passed team mate Harriott Kelly. I gasped that she was getting away from her rival for first place.

Harriott about to hit the tape as leading lady

After a 5:15 third mile, in a straight that feels like it’ll end in Battery Park, I crossed the finish line in 44th place, good for 3rd M40+ and 1st M50, in 16:35. This was one second better than in 2017 and gave me top age grade of 90.36%. Peter followed a few seconds later (in 16:38) and Harriott, first lady, soon after (in 17:23). I was first UA runner though this had more to do with the weakness of our open team and Javier’s poor health than my performance. It was enough to place me top of the UK 5K M50 rankings – for now.

Finish in sight

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800 metres to go with Harriott Kelly and Peter Brady (picture credit: Nigel Francis)

UA’s boasted a truckload of individual top 3 age group placers (not surprising given how we dominated the masters Oscars at the 2018 NYRR Club Night). They were as follows: Saudy Tejada, 3rd F35-39 in 19:32; Javier, 3rd M40 in 16:57; Flavio de Simone, 3rd M45 in a big PR of 17:08; Ellen Basille, 1st F45 in 18:52; Jennifer Amato, 2nd F45 in 20:35; Matt Chaston, 2nd M50 in 16:41; Fiona Bayly, 1st F50 in 19:16; and Dominique Saint-Louis, 2nd F50 in 20:07. UA placed 5th and 7th in the women and mens open teams respectively. But best of all we got 1st F40, F50 and M50 teams and 2nd M40 team.

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Flavio de Simone

Washington Heights 5K is affectionately known in local running lore as Coogan’s after the famous bar that plays host to the post race revelry. The bar recently came close to closure. It’s won a stay of execution. If it closed a part of New York would die with it. The race will live on regardless. It’s like no other. The field is deep, the course is hilly, the weather typically cold and windy, and the neighborhood quintessential New York.

More than 5,000 runners completed the course. NYRR’s full story is here. First to cross the finish line for the men was Brendan Martin (NYAC) who finished in 14:50. I reflected on the race and noticed how such is its intensity I rarely have time to take in any of the neighborhood and local historical sites. One day Sham and I will walk around it to before it gentrifies. Before then I will run through New York with Jason.